If you think termites damage wood alone, you should know that these voracious pests will eat anything and everything that contains cellulose, including wood, paper, cotton, and even drywall.
It’s because of this insatiable appetite that termites cause a shocking amount of damage — every year, termites invade about 600,000 homes in the U.S., leading to both structural and material damages that total
around $5 billion.
Unfortunately, most homeowners are unaware of a termite colony until they spot a swarm or visible damage.
If they’re in your walls snacking on drywall, particleboard, or other cellulose-rich materials, you might not notice signs of the problem for years. Considering these pests could be eating away at your walls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, identifying termite damage early on is the best way to prevent serious damage.
In this article, we explore the basics of a termite invasion, how to identify early-stage termite damage in drywall, and what to do if you think you might have termites in your walls.
Why Your Walls Are Prime Termite Targets
Pests eating your home from within is a serious concern, especially if they start munching around in your walls and threatening the structural integrity of your home.
These six-legged, wing-bearing pests can form massive colonies, with members working around the clock consuming wood. To get an idea of how problematic termites can be, a small colony of around 2,000 termites can eat 11 pounds every month.
A mature colony can be 30 times that size.
Termites and Their Feeding Habits
The unique feeding habits of termites enable them to play an important role in nature. Those living in natural environments break down old and dying trees in forests to make room for new plants and introduce valuable nutrients to the soil.
Inside a home, however, a termite colony’s feeding habits can be disastrous. Termites can enter and eat away any structural or non-structural element that contains cellulose.
This means they also like to eat the cellulose found in wood, plywood, insulation, and drywall, and some termite colonies might even end up damaging a building’s walls. In fact, termite colonies like to feast on walls, specifically, the cellulose in the wall.
Unlike other food sources, walls offer a large surface area, which means the termites don’t have to travel far to find their next meal. Walls are easy eating for these pests as thousands of worker termites can feed on the same piece of wood at once.
If a termite infestation reaches your walls, you could have a major problem on your hands.
Termite Species that Damage Walls in the Northeastern U.S.
While there are over 40 species of termites in the United States, the subterranean variety is the most common and most damaging.
Ranging throughout the Eastern Seaboard, subterranean termites are found in homes from Florida to Maine. They’re the primary termite species plaguing homes in the country’s northeastern part.
Subterranean termites can form huge colonies and still go undetected. They live underground and can also have multiple colonies living around a single home, feeding at the same time
and causing tenfold more damage to the building.
Subterranean termite colonies can easily feed on the drywall paper and the wood, damaging the walls. The problem is that termites in your walls can easily go undetected for years because they’re living behind your
walls where you can’t see them.
Such infestation can spread quickly, so you’ll likely end up with structural damage.
That’s why, if you live in an area that’s prone to termite infestations, you should consider having a professional inspect your home for termites once a year to identify early warning signs of a termite problem.
Detecting Early Stage Termite Damage: Drywall-Specific Signs
Also known as sheetrock — which is a specific brand of drywall — and plasterboard, this material is commonly used as a covering for walls and ceilings. It is made of plaster panels that are encased on both sides by thick sheets of paperboard.
It’s hard to detect interior damage early on. But, there are some signs you can look for to help you identify termite activity.
Because the drywall covers your walls, you’ll usually notice issues on or around your drywall if you have termites in your walls. Here are a few early indicators of a termite infestation to watch for:
Sign #1: Discoloration on the Plasterboard
If you have subterranean termites behind your walls, you might spot discoloration that looks like a brownish,
moist stain on your plasterboard or drywall.
Sign #2: Bubbling or Peeling Paint
Termites can create strange marks on painted or wallpapered surfaces that look like small bubbles. While eating the wood and insulation beneath the surface of your drywall, termites construct termite galleries and exit holes. This activity is what can lead to bubbling or peeling paint on your walls.
But you might be unable to detect this sign of a termite colony in your walls. These pests can build their galleries without affecting the thin layer of paint or wallpaper on the surface. If this is the case, you might not realize you have termites behind your walls until someone removes the paint or wallpaper during a home repair or renovation project.
Sign #3: Mud Tubes
Subterranean termites construct shelter tubes consisting of mud, dirt, and debris to avoid being spotted when traveling to and from their food source.
These mud tubes, roughly the width of a pencil, are frequently found on the exterior walls of a building, leading up to the entry points. They emerge from the ground and tend to go in the direction of exposed wood.
While mud tubes usually run along the side of your house, you might notice them on the interior walls in your basement or garage. If you detect mud tubes, cut off a section and look for live termites to confirm if you have an active infestation.
Unfortunately, mud tubes aren’t always visible. Sometimes the termites will form these pathways behind walls, which means you’ll need a pest care professional to detect them.
Sign #4: Cracks on Wall Baseboards
New cracks on wall baseboards indicate that termites might be behind your walls.
Peeling or flaking on the baseboard or your doorway are also early signs of termite activity.
Sign #5: Termite Dust at Wall Base
Termites frequently leave behind brown-colored and inside the termite galleries after devouring the wall panel.
What is termite dust? The muddy material that can fall out of the termite galleries. These fecal pellets — known as termite dust — are typically discovered at wall bases.
In addition to termite feces, you might also notice remains of discarded wings on wall bases, windowsills, and floors. These fallen wings are unmistakable evidence of an indoor termite swarm, so you probably have these pests somewhere in your home.
Sign #6: Odd Sounds in Walls
Another early-stage sign is the presence of new sounds behind your walls. For example, you might hear a clicking noise — this sound occurs when soldier termites sense danger and start banging their heads against the walls to warn the colony.
On the other hand, you might hear almost nothing behind your walls.
Termites eat drywall and wood from the inside out, leaving behind a thin veneer of wood or paint. As a result, when you knock or tap on a termite-damaged region, it will sound hollow or papery because some of the material within has been eaten away.
What if Termites Go Undetected in the Early Stages?
Even though termites are nothing more than little insects, their enormous colonies can cause serious damage to your home and lower the value of your property.
That’s why identifying termites in your walls and detecting an infestation is critical: If you don’t notice early termite signs, the colony will likely get larger or multiply. That means more damage, more expenses, and more stress.
Here are some of the problems you could face if you have undetected termites.
Issue #1: Structural Damage
Termites normally get into a house from the ground up by traveling through the foundation. A single colony can cause substantial damage to a home’s foundation by producing fissures.
A termite colony in your walls can inflict extensive structural damage as well. While these pests enjoy munching on the interior of your walls, they’ll eventually move on to other food sources, including wood beams, posts, and wall studs.
With enough structural damage, your home can shift, making it harder to open and close doors and windows. Over time, termite colonies can render a building unlivable, so you’ll need to have a pest control expert treat an infestation as early as possible.
Issue #2: Financial Implications
Every year, termite pest problems cause billions of dollars in property damage.
But this is one type of unexpected damage your homeowner’s insurance policy probably won’t cover. Because termite damage can be prevented by routine pest control, the homeowner must ensure their property doesn’t have pests.
There are two ways you can incur costs. First, you’ll need to pay to repair any damaged physical structures. If the damage is extensive, you might also have to pay to stay elsewhere while the repair is done.
Issue #3: Affecting Real Estate Market Value
Every owner must disclose all information to potential buyers, including any previous or ongoing pest infestations.
Even the boldest people can be scared away by the prospect of termites nearby. Because no one wants their furniture or belongings to be harmed by these destructive insects, some people won’t look at properties that have had major termite damage in the past.
Knowing a home was infested by termites — even if you’ve already had professionals get rid of the infestation and repair the damage — could turn away potential buyers and impact the value of your home.
Issue #4: Health Risks
There are a few health risks to consider in addition to the structural and financial losses that termites can cause.
Although termites do not directly threaten humans, some people may be allergic to the dust and particle deposits that termites leave behind as they migrate to their colony – which could also aggravate asthma.
How to Treat Termite Damage to Walls
The best way to stop termites from damaging your walls is to detect the presence of an infestation as early as possible and get professional termite treatment.
With effective treatments that target subterranean termites, you can rest easy knowing your pest problems are under control. Options include liquid termiticides, baits, and wood preservation treatments.
Termiticides and baits work by introducing a substance into the colony that will kill the insects. Wood preservation treatments will eliminate termites and any other material that destroys wood, such as fungi or beetles.
A pest control expert can safely apply these materials around your home to kill the termites and prevent more colonies from setting up camp in your home. Once your pest problem is taken care of, it’s a good idea to have regular inspections to identify signs of a new colony.
That way, you don’t have to worry about missing the early warning signs of termites in your walls or elsewhere around your property.
Spotting signs of termite damage in your walls can be unnerving. But, the earlier you notice an issue and get professional help, the better for your home and your wallet.
You can recognize termite damage in your walls by looking for telltale signs like peeling paint, new sounds behind the drywall, and cracks around the baseboard.
For total peace of mind, you should also have a pest control specialist check your home for termites periodically. That way, you’ll stay one step ahead of the termite activity and avoid serious damage altogether.
The expert team at GreenHow has years of experience identifying and treating termite infestations in New England.
We can determine if there are termites anywhere in your home and treat an existing infestation with safe methods for you and your family. We also offer preventative services to ensure termites are never a problem in your home.
Stop worrying about termites inside of your walls — contact us today for a free consultation.